LinkedIn Sharpens Education Focus: Self-Serve Widget Lets Users Add Certifications While On Other Sites

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LinkedIn — the social network for the working world — has been working on launching various tools to increase the usefulness and engagement of its platform to its 300m+ users. Today sees the launch of the latest of these. LinkedIn is unveiling a self-service certification feature, aimed both at helping education businesses and institutions spread their name in a more legit way on the site, and for users to enhance their profiles at the same time.

The news comes at the same time that I am hearing that LinkedIn at the very early stages of considering a pilot with online learning companies, where LinkedIn would act as a platform not just for people to show off their achievements, but to actually act as the place where users would do the work to get them, too.

While conversations for online learning services are still in an early stage, the new service being announced today — with the catchy name of Add to Profile for Certifications — could be thought of as a brick in that longer road.

It will let professional education providers integrate a certifications widgets on their sites, and LinkedIn users who have completed courses will, in turn, be able to add these to their own profiles as “proof” of having completed a course, while still on that third-party site.

It is an expansion of a pilot program LinkedIn launched a year ago with a small group of businesses that included Microsoft, Coursera, Lynda.com and others. Today’s news effectively means that the platform is being opened to any professional-education business that wants to participate. It’s also an enhancement for LinkedIn on a number of other fronts:

To build out the company’s jobseeking business — Talent Solutions today accounts for 61% of its revenues — LinkedIn has been making it easier for people to use their LinkedIn profiles effectively as resume proxies, giving them more flexibility to apply for jobs, for example on mobile devices. Adding certification badges enhances those LinkedIn profiles even further.

“The ways in which we market ourselves as individuals, brands, potential employers and employees have shifted dramatically in recent years, making it critical that we always put our best foot forward online and off,” writes product manager Dan Shapero in a blog post.

Then, the company has been building up its relationships with educational institutions, as well as expanding its own role in reaching out to students and creating services tailored just for them to grow its user base.

So far, the Certification program has not extended to the world of higher learning — that is, colleges and universities — but it seems to me that this would be the next logical step, and a smart one, considering that today there is very little you can do in the way of vetting people’s claims on the site.

The third key area for LinkedIn here is the fact that these certification notations start not within its own walled garden, but on third-party sites.

In other words, the company is making an effort here to extend its own “professional graph” beyond that of LinkedIn, creating a tighter and more ubiquitous ecosystem, much like Facebook has done with Facebook Connect. That sort of groundwork can, longer term, be used for any number of other purposes, from advertising through to log-in services elsewhere and more.

But for now, LinkedIn is mainly touting the benefits of businesses adding certification functionality and users activating them on their profiles: it notes that those with certifications on their profiles get six times as more views. (That’s something that LinkedIn could even start to highlight in its own search algorithms as one way of pushing those views and usage of the widgets.)